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Class War on Christmas Eve
Published in Theory on 30.12.2018
by Hendrik Erz
On December 25, the Queen delivered her annual Christmas speech. The video, published on the official Royal Family's YouTube account, begins with the choir of the King's College in Cambridge chanting the British National Anthem, God Save The Queen. The video then shifts the scene to the Queen, surrounded by golden furniture such as a golden grand piano and a golden couch. The walls of the room are apparently made of marble and exhibit golden ornaments.
The Queen opens her speech by recalling the end of the first World War in 1918. She then proceeds with her core message: Amidst the ongoing violence in the Middle East, in Africa and South America and in some cases only a few streets away, we should
overcome deeply held differences and
respect [each other] as a fellow human being. By stating the most indisputable opinion the speech is choosing a rather convenient option and masks the violence occurring all around the world during Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, three suicide attackers bombed the Foreign Ministry in Tripoli, Libya. Later the same day, a journalist burnt himself in Kasserine, just a few miles away from Tripoli, inciting massive riots across the country. On the following days, the rioting continued in several world regions, including France, where the Gilets Jaunes are still hitting the streets. Just a few days ago, another terrorist attack hit tourists in Egypt, near Gizeh.
“Keep Calm and Carry On!”
The German Peace Research Institutes’ annual report, titled “Krieg ohne Ende” (War without end), concludes:
The world is currently far from a stable and just peace order. The wars in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have claimed thousands of victims and are forcing people to flee. The common concern for peace through international co-operation — for example in the United Nations (UN) — is overshadowed by conflicts.1
The world is slipping into an ever more violent future. For the past twenty years, the number of civil wars and rioting in the streets have increased and will continue to rise.2 Since at least 2008, it has become clear that rioting and civil unrest are not exclusive to the global south but concern the north just as well. Terrorist attacks in major European cities, new riots in North America and deteriorating social conditions across the West will have their part in making Europe itself unsafer.
But not for the Queen. And this is the central lesson we should draw from this speech, or any other Christmas speech any celebrity around the world is delivering. When society breaks down, those with the luxury of private security will be the last to be bothered. The Queen will indeed be saved, just like the anthem promises.
Heads of state, secular and spiritual leaders, try to lend comfort to a fractured society that is drifting ever closer towards open fascism. These speeches expose the rift that separates the multitude of people at the bottom from those few at the top. And those at the top have the ease of mind to tell their servants to simply
keep calm and carry on. Indeed, there is a striking similarity between today’s Christmas messages and the old war posters by the British government that were meant to motivate the British population to endure yet another year of war.
We Share in our Struggles for a Better World
Although there is no open warfare within the industrialised world, there's still a war going on. And it is not a war between equal parts of society, as the classical definition of civil war would require. It is rather an economic war between different levels of post-fordist capitalism. This war has manifested itself as violence in the global south for a long time now, but it is beginning to exert violence in Europe as well. However, the annual Christmas messages keep telling us:
Keep calm and carry on, while we endure yet another year of class war.
The Left must understand that whenever a head of state, or the pope, or any other authority implores us to go back home and to contemplate our shared humanity, that it is in fact our struggles that have the potential to draw us closer together. Be it people rioting in North African cities or French workers hitting the street, we all are fighting a world in which a handful of people own half the world's wealth. In times like these our common humanity expresses itself in violence.
There's a well known German joke that goes like this:
A BILD reader [the German equivalent of The Sun or the Daily Mail] sits at a bar with ten cookies in front of him. Then the capitalist to his right takes nine cookies and tells the BILD reader »look, the refugee to your left is going to take your cookie!«
Messages like this tell us that those dying in the streets of Tunis and Tripoli, in Montevideo and Kabul rob us of our sense of security and comfort. The Queen and other celebrities sit inside their golden homes and tell us that it is not them we should despise, but the violent rioters outside. They tell us to keep calm and endure another year of class war without acknowledging that a journalist burning himself to death in Kasserine is fighting exactly the same war as we are.
Precisely in times like these, we should remind ourselves of the old saying:
Peace to the dwellings! War to the palaces!
Bonn International Center for Conversion, Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Institut für Friedensforschung und Sicherheitspolitik an der Universität Hamburg, and Institut für Entwicklung und Frieden, eds. Kriege ohne Ende: mehr Diplomatie - weniger Rüstungsexporte. Friedensgutachten 2018. Berlin: LIT, 2018. ↩
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute publishes the most reliable numbers under the name “Uppsala Conflict Data Program”: http://ucdp.uu.se/. The shift since the end of the cold war is clearly visible. ↩